Thoughts on Setting up a Student Created Wiki by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Cross posted on Langwitches Blog Just as I was about to create a Math Wiki and work with all Middle School students, I ran across the following article by Ruth Reynard in The Journal ” More Challenges with Wikis 4
Publish date:
Social count:

Cross posted on Langwitches Blog

Just as I was about to create a Math Wiki and work with all Middle School students, I ran across the following article by Ruth Reynard in The Journal ” More Challenges with Wikis: 4 Ways to Move Students from Passive to Active

  1. Setup
  2. Project Management for Wikis
  3. Requiring Synthesis
  4. Rewarding Engagement

The first paragraph of the article immediately struck a chord with me:

While wikis provide an interesting and accessible tool for collaborative work with students, there can be an easy shift back to regular teacher-driven methods in their use as it is difficult and challenging to continue to facilitate collaboration throughout a wiki project. That is, as we already know, the technology itself does not develop the skill, nor is it the teacher; the technology is only a tool, and teachers must remain committed to the collaborative process if students are to fully engage and develop the skills necessary to work collaboratively with their peers

I want to avoid creating a teacher driven wiki. I want to avoid that students simply follow their textbook with its units and chapters to create a depository of formulas and vocabulary.

I am “dreaming” of collaboration and connections with content from previous and coming years being made.


Students and their teacher should not simply see the wiki as a website, that can easily be edited by multiple users. The wiki needs be more than a compilation of documents and links added by the students of the class or course. As Ruth Reynard explains, in addition a wiki should be about the collaboration skills students are “living and learning” through the work. We need to distinguish between “adding information (as part of a group)”and actual “collaboration”.

Collaboration is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor

The emphasis for my is in the word “jointly”. Jointly means connected. So, in addition to the collaborators working jointly as one, not just as many who are depositing their contribution one next to the other. The information, that is being “contributed collectively” needs to be joint/connected through ideas, thoughts, sequence, links, design, hierarchy, that make sense for understanding. The information on a wiki should not just exist together, merely for the fact that the files that contain the information are under the same domain.


The information needs to be connected in order for us to make sense of it. Otherwise it will just be a pile of information and information overload will set it.

In another article, 3 Challenges to Wiki Use in Education, Reynard lists the following:

Creating meaningful assignments: Motivation

Well designed assignments are clearly based on the learning outcomes of a course and also present meaningful purposes for students in their completion. [...] gaps in design and purpose are not only demonstrated through lack of (obvious) participation by students but also lack of viewable connection to the overall purpose and meaning of a course.

Grade Value for Constructed Input: Affirmation

Affirming students through grading values that adequately reflect the process is not new to education; however, in the area of new technology use, it is essential. [...] The effective use of Web2 tools requires students to be active throughout the process and that work should be reflected in the final grade for an assignment.

Collective Knowledge Use Learning.

Actual learning takes place when what is understood is applied in some meaningful context of use. [...] The power of using the wiki for collective learning is that it builds on a collective collaboration of knowledge construction and also visibly and logically captures the progress of thought and application for the participants and observers.

In an attempt to overcome these 3 challenges as I am working with Middle School students and their math teacher, I am working to:

  1. Creating meaningful assignments: Motivation by showing students that there is a connection between all the math classes (the ones they are taking, have taken and still will be taking) by making this a collaborative, cross grade level and math level project where more advanced students create help and tutorials for lower level and younger students. by reminding them of their responsibility to participate by demonstrating how the wiki will be a new tool and resource for them to learn with, trough and from. by placing a clustrmap on the wiki and opening it up for other Middle School math students from around the world to view and learn from.
  2. Grade Value for Constructed Input: Affirmation by keeping track of students’ contributions to the wiki, such as: Adding existing information (from other resources) creating new information connecting contributions of others creating multimedia examples and tutorials contributing ideas and out-of-box thinking to make wiki a better learning tool visual design organizing information in meaningful ways Reflecting on the effectiveness of the wiki
  3. Collective Knowledge Use Learning.
    by allowing students to realize, that it is not only about individual knowledge, but the knowledge the group is able to put together and connect. by reminding students that the wiki will be what THEY make of it. There are no pre-set examples to copy nor models to follow. by continue to remind students that the quality of the wiki is a process and will depend on the collective participation of all contributors. by acknowledging that the wiki is not a unit or chapter to go through, but an ongoing process and will continue throughout the school year.

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts about setting up the Middle School Math Wiki and experiences in working with the students and teachers.